Articles

Snap, Crackle, Pop! On Eating Bugs and Worms

July 15, 2010

story by Lucy Lean
illustration by Andrea Wan
This article originally appeared in
 Meatpaper Issue Twelve.

“Delectable wax moth larvae…” the flyer read. The event was called Eat Bug Eat, and was hosted by a group called the Critter Salon. It made me curious. I love  sucking the heads off of shrimp, one of the insect world’s many crustacean cousins. I swallow live oysters in one gulp. I tuck into a plate of snails dripping in garlicky butter every time I travel to France. The flyer promised insects with the flavor and texture of crispy fried bacon. So, how hard could it be?

I am not the only person to have this thought. The event, held at Machine Project in Los Angeles, is sold out. When I walk through the door, the first thing I see is a large box of wriggling worms. They’re called superworms. Their size fits the name. They are large, black, yellow, and brown, and there are a lot of them, so many that I can hear them rustling around in their habitat of newspaper and apple slices. A young woman behind the table lifts the newspaper and places her hand into a sea of writhing bodies. I am reminded of the snake scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. “They don’t bite!” she says.

Whatever I may have thought, I am not going to be able to do this. Is everyone else feeling as queasy as I am?

A pretty blond woman in a bright blue low-cut T-shirt nonchalantly walks over, picks up a small white wax moth larva, and pops it into her mouth. a crowd gathers.

“When they are raw, they taste like piña colada,” she says of the live larvae. “They pop in your mouth. There’s an odd lingering taste, too. It’s not bad, just different.”

She is enjoying the attention. She opens her mouth wide so that the photographer from the L.A. Times can get a good closeup of the worms on her tongue. She may be a paying guest tonight, but she’s a professional bug eater by day. Her name is Jenny Newman, and she performs as the “insectivore” for a sideshow troupe. to demonstrate, she picks up one of the bigger mealworms and places it gently between her teeth. the worm is wriggling and its tail circles around a couple of times like a little propeller before she sucks it into her mouth and starts to chew.

“These are so much better,” Newman says, pointing toward the wax moth larvae. “It’s creamier. It’s almost like crème fraîche mixed with a roasted nut.”

At the Eat Bug Eat event, there are cookbooks on display full of recipes showing how to make soups, entrées, and desserts from different insects. I flick through Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects by Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, PhD, and come across a recipe for Mealworm Spaghetti that calls for half a pound of mealworms, roasted and diced. The pasta is cooked with onions, Italian herbs, and ricotta cheese and then topped with the mealworms.

If worms taste as good as Newman claims, could this really be a viable source of protein? The protein content is higher than that of red meat. Cultures all over the world eat bugs. Just not ours. The mealworms for the night were local — raised by small operations that usually sell to the bait or pet food market. I was informed that they could be raised even in a small apartment. Insects could be the ultimate slow food, open to anyone with a plastic box, some bran, and the courage to eat worms.

Insects could be the ultimate slow food, open to anyone with a plastic box, some bran, and the courage to eat worms.

I move over to the table at the end of the room where Phil Ross, the founder and director of Critter Salon, is cooking different varieties of worms on two burners. The superworms make a frantic clicking sound as their wriggling bodies hit the sides of a metal bowl. A large bottle of canola oil and some sea salt add a touch of normalcy to the scene. Ross heats some oil in a skillet and adds the worms. They writhe furiously for about a minute, then stop moving. He flips the pan to sauté them evenly. He adds some salt and flips the pan some more.“You can put them in the freezer to kill them first, but that changes the flavor,” he says. “This is meat: cruel, yet delicious!” Ross pours the fried worms over a kitchen towel to remove the excess oil and carries them over to the waiting tacos. the tacos are drizzled with lime-green roasted tomatillo salsa verde and sour cream, sprinkled with the fried worms, and topped off with lime juice, fresh cilantro, and salt.

“Why eat bugs?” I ask.

“Because they taste good,” he says with a smile, handing me a taco.

I take a deep breath and take a bite. The flavor is greasy and crunchy, with none of the promised bacon taste or texture. There’s no identifiable “bug” taste. I could be eating popped rice doused in lime and salsa verde.

Feeling emboldened, I go ahead and take a bite of a fried superworm. The texture reminds me of an overcooked French fry, but the flavor is nutty and crisp, with a subtle smoky flavor. So far, so good.

I move on to the crickets — cooked Oaxacan style with lime and chili, but still unmistakably crickets. I put one in my mouth, scrunch up my face, and bite down on it. I feel the legs breaking off on my tongue. I worry that cricket parts will get stuck in my teeth.

The excitement has officially worn off. It’s not that the bugs taste bad. It’s that they just aren’t especially meaty. They’re pure texture — tiny fried carcasses without much flavor. Imagine crunching on tiny prawns that have been deep-fried in their shells to the point where their meat is no more.

It all felt a little like the Emperor’s New Clothes. You get over the ick factor and beyond the hype, but for what? A mouthful of crunchy, greasy, fried shells. I’d eat bugs for survival but not for pleasure.

I drive home hungry.


LUCY LEAN is a Los Angeles–based bon vivant. She is the founder of LadlesandJellyspoons.com, editor of edible Los Angeles, and contributor to many publications, both new and old.


Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada, ANDREA WAN went to Emily Carr University of Art and Design, where she receIved a degree in film, video, and integrated media. With her strong passion in storytelling and image making, she went on to study illustration and design at Designskolen Kolding, Denmark. Andrea is currently working as an illustrator and visual artist in Vancouver, BC.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Twelve.
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Wild Game at the Winery: In praise of guinea fowl

July 15, 2010

story by Andrew Mariani and Chris Fischer
photos by Lucy Goodheart
This article originally appeared in
 Meatpaper Issue Twelve.

AT SCRIBE WINERY IN SONOMA, CALIFORNIA, vintner Andrew Mariani and farmer/chef Chris Fischer raise guinea fowl for their table. Here, they interview each other in an attempt to explain why they chose the notoriously feisty birds for their new farm. 

Fischer: Why Guinea Fowl?

Mariani: Guineas are more of a wild species than typical poultry like chickens or turkeys. Before we started Scribe, this property was an industrial turkey farm. The birds were artificially inseminated, pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, fattened up, never seeing the light of day. These birds were over-manipulated, and not only is that potentially inhumane, but it also doesn’t taste very good.

I wanted our first foray into raising birds to be the complete opposite of that. There’s something about guineas and the fact that they are less domesticated than chickens that makes them attractive.

Fischer: Exactly. They are beautiful birds, with their elegant white spots and nimble, dexterous ways of moving around. They were originally brought to America on slave ships from Africa, and acclimate quickly to the wild if left to their own habits. On the East Coast, it is very common for flocks of guineas to roam wild, reproducing naturally and eating what is provided for them in the woods.

Mariani: That is why we built them a coop with an elevated perch that was completely enclosed with a large netted area for them to roam naturally for insects in the field. They are skilled flyers, so the netting is necessary to keep them captive, but we still wanted to provide natural space for them. Have you ever hunted or gathered them?

Fischer: I have had to do away with them for our neighbors due to noise issues, which is quite tough, even with a .22. They are very nimble. Actually, their ability to maneuver in difficult settings has been studied by robotics experts for modern warfare purposes. But in our case, we just wanted to keep the peace and have a good product for the dinner table.

Speaking of the dinner table, what other animals do you raise on the Scribe property?

Mariani: From the beginning of this project, I have been motivated by an idea of creating the old California homestead, being self-sustainable, and working in a biodiverse and healthy ecosystem. We now have ducks, chickens, pigs, and two goats, not to mention the sheep that graze our vineyards to keep the fields in check while fertilizing at the same time with their manure. Part of the reason for our food production is to break up the  monoculture of traditional vineyards.

You used to be a chef in New York City, cooking for Mario Batali, and made a conscious decision to leave that world and grow and raise food. Why?

Fischer: I did my time in a big restaurant, working 90-hour weeks, sleeping 4 hours a night and eating and drinking myself into a very bad bikini body. I left that life behind because my family has always grown food and I loved the idea of cooking the food that I also raised. So I moved from an apartment in Manhattan to my grandfather’s tool shed on his farm on Martha’s Vineyard. I now raise, slaughter, and cook as much food as I can.

Recently at Scribe, we slaughtered a batch of birds in a very communal way to use in a meal at a San Francisco restaurant, with about 12 people getting together to help in the process. It was very moving and peaceful. To work side by side with people who may not have had such an experience with the food they will be eating was an important moment for everyone involved — plucking the feathers, removing the innards and cleaning the birds for our meal.

Mariani: I’ve learned from hosting parties that the guests who seem to enjoy themselves the most are the ones who came early to help. I think the more invested you are in the creation of something, the more pleasure you will derive from its goodness. I think one of the beautiful things about growing food is that if you spend the time and energy to raise an animal or vegetable, and make sure you cook it properly and respectfully, when you eat it you savor it fully. Intimately knowing the provenance of the plate leads to a very delicious experience.

When you were a chef in New York, was there ever guinea fowl on the menu?

Guinea hens’ ability to maneuver  in difficult settings has been studied by robotics experts for modern warfare purposes.

Fischer: It was on the menu from day one and is still on the menu today. They serve a boned-out guinea hen leg, marinated in herbs and oil, then slowly grilled with whatever vegetables are in season at the time. The slow rendering of the fat makes for a crispy and moist piece of meat. The guineas are sourced from a purveyor who was distributing them nationwide long before it was trendy to venture away from chicken. They sell guinea hen meat for about $8 a pound.

Mariani: Is the high cost the reason you don’t see guinea hen on a lot of menus or in a lot of supermarkets? They are so delicious.

Fischer: If you think about all the domesticated animals raised in America, 99 percent of them are sheep, pigs, chickens, and cows. It’s not about taste, it’s about convenience and cost. And all those animals are easy to raise. Easy means cheap, and that is the bottom line. If all the food we raised was as labor intensive and expensive as raising guinea hens, we would not be able to do so cost effectively. I guess we will never see them on the scale of chickens or other poultry, but that’s OK. All we can do as guinea hen activists and advocates is spread the word to others and hope it catches on.


ANDREW MARIANI lives and works in Sonoma, California, where he is the owner and vintner of Scribe Winery. He is currently at work restoring the property to its former glory, one vine and brick at a time.


CHRIS FISCHER learned how to cook from his father, who emphasized meals spent together as a family. Chris started cooking professionally in New York City six years ago. He now makes his living cooking, farming, and helping others do the same on Martha’s Vineyard and sometimes elsewhere.


LUCY GOODHEART was born in London and grew up in the flatlands of East Anglia. She photographs for advertising, editorial, and publishing projects as well as fine art. Her objectives lie strongly in the desire to capture the unseen, the overlooked, and the forgotten.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Twelve.
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Animal Science: A visit to the UC Davis Meat Laboratory

July 15, 2010

story and photography by Malia Wollan
This article originally appeared in
 Meatpaper Issue Twelve.

AT THIS SLAUGHTERHOUSE, meat isn’t really the point. Here, human appetites for marbled steak, say, or buttery bacon are subordinate to the tastes and needs of mosquitoes, biotech experiments, vampire bats, cancer research, and forensic entomologists. 

Here, meat is a by-product of science.

Caleb Sehnert is the round-faced, affable manager and only full-time employee at the Meat Laboratory at the University of California, Davis. Equal parts butcher and animal parts peddler, the 27-year-old wears a blood- splattered white lab coat and baseball cap that reads “Meat Lab.”

Once a week, Sehnert and a handful of student workers herd pigs, lambs, and cattle one by one down an alleyway behind a nondescript, dun-colored Department of Animal Sciences building, through a small door, onto the kill floor. Meanwhile, around the front, away from the blood and the smell of burning animal hair, lab techs, professors, and PhD students armed with lunch-sized coolers assemble in the hallway waiting to whisk fresh organs back to their labs. Sehnert charges $10 per part whether the researchers come for brains, adrenal glands, or lungs.

“They go one way and the meat goes the other,” Sehnert says. After passing off the coveted anatomical tidbits, Sehnert and his crew clean and process the carcasses to be sold in more customary cuts to local meatloaf makers, beef eaters, and barbecuers.

UC Davis is one of a dozen or so universities around the country with slaughterhouses that act as commercial meat facilities, learning laboratories, and animal research hubs. Universities with strong agriculture and animal sciences programs like Texas A&M, Iowa State University, and the University of Nebraska have long used meat labs as training grounds for future commercial meat processors, but the meat lab at UC Davis caters to research far beyond animal husbandry and agriculture. While Davis began as an ag school, in recent years it has also become a center for biotechnology. “At the beginning, the lab was geared toward livestock production,” says Dan Sehnert, Caleb’s father, who ran the meat lab for almost two decades beginning in 1981. “Now it is more focused on biotech and benefiting human health. Biotech is where the money is at.”

When Dan Sehnert started at the meat lab, UC Davis employed seven meat science professors, and now there are none, he says. These days, it is rare to find any traditional meat and animal scientists among the researchers waiting outside the kill floor. The central scientific questions governing the university have shifted over the years away from ag scientists investigating optimal feed mixes for growing fat hogs, say, or how best to reduce pathogenic bacteria in beef jerky. Now the meat lab supplies flesh, blood, and bone for a bizarre spectrum of scientific inquiries.

The meat lab supplies flesh, blood, and bone for a bizarre spectrum of scientific inquiries.

Blood from the lab has gone to feed vampire bats and satiate mosquitoes raised for a West Nile virus study; engineering doctoral students needed pigs’ cervical vertebrae for a digital model they built to evaluate job safety for farm workers; medical students tested prostate cancer drugs on boars; pig femoral arteries went to a nearby Air Force base, where they were used by medical staff training for emergency battleground surgery; forensic entomology students buried and then periodically exhumed pig heads and dead piglets from the lab to record the corpses’ maggot life and decomposition; and medical students practiced liver transplants on pigs that the meat lab later processed.

Researchers call the lab to request sow reproductive tracts, sheep pituitary glands, pig prostates, and all manner of muscles, spinal chords, brain lobes, and sex organs on which to test pharmaceuticals, practice surgery, study genes, map DNA, or otherwise analyze, experiment on, and examine, all in the name of science.

In addition to serving as the go-to repository for any imaginable fleshy fragment of a pig, goat, cow, or sheep, the meat lab also weeds out the squeamish among the university’s aspiring veterinarians. Each semester, Caleb Sehnert takes dozens of students through the process of animal slaughter and meat making.

Most meat lab students are undergraduates who’ve never seen a dead animal before, let alone a cow with a bolt to the brain, hung by its hind legs to bleed.

Before the students arrive, Sehnert lines extra 32-gallon garbage cans with heavy-duty trash bags and places them strategically around the kill floor. “Each class, there are three or four that throw up and two or three that pass out,” he says. Students watch him shoot a bolt gun into the space between a cow’s eyes, above the cowlick swirl of hair on its forehead. Most attendees are undergraduates who’ve never seen a dead animal before, let alone a cow with a bolt to the brain, hung by its hind legs to bleed.

“We have them team up and have a partner, a buddy, in case they feel woozy,” says Sehnert. “Last year, I had just taken the head off a lamb and broken the jaw open so they could see the teeth. I looked over and I saw a girl just floating; her eyes were closed and she was rocking back and forth. Someone had to carry her away.”

The students gawk while Sehnert touches an electric wand to pigs’ skulls, loads the bodies into the hog scalder to pull off the hair, skins them, removes the guts, and washes and disinfects the carcasses. None of it bothers Sehnert. Some of his earliest childhood memories are here, in this lab, watching his dad transform animals into meat and the raw materials of research. He drives a mud-splattered truck with a bumper sticker that reads, “Eat beef. The west wasn’t won on salad.”

While Dan Sehnert, now the animal facilities coordinator for the university’s animal sciences department, is curious about the research projects of the many microbiologists, endocrinologists, veterinarians, nutritionists, and medical students who frequent the lab, his son is more inclined to dutifully fulfill their needs and not ask questions. Instead, Caleb Sehnert likes the meat-making part of the job. He enjoys showing students how to keep an animal calm, kill it instantly, avoid E. coli contamination, and cut through bone with a band saw. On Thursday and Friday afternoons, the meat lab opens its doors to customers who come to buy what remains after the researchers have gone. “People have this preconceived notion that this place will be dark and bloody and dirty,” he says. “Really, it’s all fluorescent lights and white walls. Everything is clean. Whatever else we do here, in the end, we make food.” 


MALIA WOLLAN was a teenage vegetarian. A regular contributor to the New York Times, her written and multimedia pieces have also appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Magazine, National Public Radio, and Frontline/WORLD.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Twelve.
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Ariyana Suvarnasuddhi’s Holy Hamburger Series

July 15, 2010

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Twelve.

I started craving cheeseburgers while I was studying printmaking in Japan. Although I could find cheeseburgers in Japan, their reasonable, healthy proportions could not live up to my American-sized appetite. During that period, hamburger imagery began showing up in my artwork. I call the series — which includes the cover image for this issue — “Burger Dreams.”

My obsession with the iconic American hamburger continued as I researched and fused inspiration from Tibetan religious paintings and symbols, and mural paintings and stylistic decoration from my own Thai culture. Eventually the obsession evolved into the “Holy Hamburger Series.” 

TOP:  ”THE HOLY HAMBURGER 1: BUDDHA” BOTTOM: “THE HOLY HAMBURGER 4: GODDESS” BOTH: 18″ x 24″, ACRYLIC INK, WATERCOLOR PENCILS, AND PASTELS.


ARIYANA SUVARNASUDDHI is a freelance artist/ comic artist/ hermit whose life is primarily governed by hamburgers and fears. She makes paintings about the former and comic stories about the latter. So far the hamburgers have proved to be her main source of bread and butter.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Twelve.
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Same Old, Same Old: Cooking 100 burgers a day

July 15, 2010

interview by Heather Smith
photos by Julio Duffoo
This article originally appeared in
Meatpaper Issue Twelve.

THE BURGER JOINT as we know it annihilates space. Great leaps in highway and aviation infrastructure in the 1950s propelled us across the country and around the world. What no infrastructure could take away was that suspicious feeling that can appear in even the most suave, epicurean gut when confronted with unfamiliar food. And so: the proliferation of the burger chain — a single, identical room accessed through thousands upon thousands of doors. Step through the air-conditioned doors, and Akron could be Phoenix could be Paris, France.

The burger joint that is Red’s Java House annihilates time. Red’s, located on Pier 30 in San Francisco, opened in 1929. Then, the burger was vaguely disreputable, widely regarded as a final resting place for expired meat. It was the food of the working class man — sold out of lunch carts parked outside of factories. Red’s sold thin, almost sausage-patty-like burgers on huge sourdough rolls to longshoremen. The meat was skimpy because the sandwiches had to be cheap, and the rolls were large because the sandwiches had to be filling. It would be 1954 before a milkshake mixer salesman named Ray Kroc stopped by a restaurant in San Bernadino, California, called McDonald’s and realized he was in the wrong line of work.

Very little at Red’s is allowed to change. The pen and ink drawings underneath the glass tabletops are faded bottle green by decades of sun. Shawn Paton, who manages the place, painted the walls recently. “Not a new color,” says Paton. “The same color.” The customers complained. In one corner, there is a nice little seating alcove. Customers complain about that, too, and inquire as to the fate of the busted coffee roaster that used to sit there. “If they come in and there’s a new cook at the grill,” says Paton, “They’ll be like, ‘What happened to the other guy?’ The whole Red’s thing is about consistency. These guys don’t like change. I’m waiting for one of them to come up and ask me, ‘Why the two-ply toilet paper now?’”

“How long you been coming here and drinking beer?” Paton yells to a burly man in the corner. “Twenty years,” says the man. “I worked at the first Gap headquarters.”

“And what did you do there,” says Paton, with no small amount of sarcasm. “Were you the CEO?” The man takes another swig of his beer. “I was a model,” he says, completely deadpan. “A tight jeans model. Once they moved on to baggy, I quit.”

Paton looks at him with admiration. “That was funny,” he says. “You’re getting pretty good. You’ve been hanging out here too long.”

The original Red was notorious for saying anything to anybody. Longshoremen would come just to be insulted. The slagging at Red’s persists like a fly preserved in amber — a remnant of an America that existed before the burger business became synonymous with enforced cheerfulness and matching polo shirts.

But things do change. The longshoremen are gone. The amount of meat on the burgers has steadily inched upward in response to a changing American standard with regard to meat-to-bun ratio. The construction workers mostly disappeared when the housing bubble burst. Anthony Bourdain showed up with a camera crew.

It was the last event that had the most unsettling repercussions. “People began to come in expecting a gourmet hamburger experience,” Paton says, shuddering at the memory. “They wanted their hamburgers to be things like ‘rare.’ They wanted things like lettuce and tomato. And then they Yelped the shit out of me. I would like to have a website that is the opposite of Yelp. One where waiters and cooks write reviews of customers.”

One of those cooks, the mellifluously named José de Jesús Sotelo Acosta, cooks around 500 burgers a week  —more on days when there’s a game at the stadium. He didn’t have his first hamburger until he was 10 (He’s from Guanajuato, Mexico), but he maintains that he’s not tired of them yet. His co-worker Carlos claims that he sometimes has nightmares where he’s being chased by a giant hamburger. Jesús has no such worries. He has a magnificent bleached fauxhawk and the air of someone who knows that he is good at what he does.

After the lunch rush, Jesús was kind enough to sit down with Meatpaper and talk about what it’s like to leave at the end of your shift, knowing that you’ve grilled over 100 burgers. Julio Duffoo interpreted his Spanish.

Very little at Red’s Java House is allowed to change.

How did you begin working here? 

When I moved here from Mexico, I got a job washing dishes at an Italian restaurant. From there I moved on to work prepping pasta, and then I became a cook.

Do you ever wish you worked in a job where you cooked more than burgers?

No. This goes fast. You know the saying, “The faster the work, the faster it’s over?”

Sure. What do you think about while you’re flipping burgers?

I try not to think of anything. I try to work relaxed, keep my mind empty and clear.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I’m kind of a homebody. When I’m not in language school, studying English, I like to stay at home and watch movies. I like American and Mexican documentaries. Also: the movie The Exorcist.

Have you always worked as a cook?

I was a shoe model maker in Mexico. I started when I was ten. I know how to make shoes from scratch  — out of nothing but leather. Dress shoes, boots, tennis shoes … I would love to be doing it here. I’m what you would call a shoe addict. I love shoes. I need a shop to make them. And I need to practice my English more.

What do you cook when you’re at home?

Nothing. I don’t cook at home.

What’s the best thing about this job?

I like that there’s an open kitchen. I really like that. I get to see and interact with the different customers — all these people coming from different parts of the city, different parts of society.

What’s the worst part?

In all honesty? A don’t have a problem with any of it.


HEATHER SMITH always swears that she’s never going to eat meat again. Until someone offers her some.


JULIO DUFFOO  was born in Peru and raised in Brooklyn, and is now based in San Francisco. He has photographed people who spend their lives engaged with meat for every issue of Meatpaper since Issue One.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Twelve.
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